Moral Realism

Overview of Moral Realism

  • Moral realism is the philosophical view that postulates the existence of objective moral values and duties.
  • This standpoint rejects subjectivism, asserting instead that ethics are mind-independent, rather than purely existing as constructs.
  • It is a position that falls within cognitivism, meaning it proposes moral statements as capable of being true or false.

Pillars of Moral Realism

  • Objectivity: Moral realism posits that moral truths are objective truths, independent of any individual’s opinions or perceptions.
  • Intrinsic Value: According to moral realism, certain actions or situations possess intrinsic value, meaning they are good or bad in and of themselves, irrespective of consequences.
  • Universality: This philosophical viewpoint maintains that if something is morally true, it is true universally and transcends cultures, times, and situations.

Forms of Moral Realism

  • Ethical naturalism: This approach to moral realism suggests that moral facts can be reduced to non-moral facts. For example, a statement like “kindness is good” could be objectively measured by physiological responses to kind acts.
  • Moral non-naturalism: This version of moral realism insists that moral values are irreducible to natural properties or facts. Instead, moral truths are self-evident.

Criticisms of Moral Realism

  • Moral disagreement objection: This criticism asserts that moral realism cannot justify the widespread and persistent moral disagreements in the world.
  • Open question argument: This argument is a challenge to ethical naturalism. It states that defining “good” in terms of natural properties is inadequate because the question “Is good itself good?” is always an open question.
  • For moral non-naturalists, the criticism lies in the view being intuitively unappealing and hard to comprehend, particularly the concept of moral facts as irrefutable and self-evident.

Responding to Criticisms

  • Moral realists argue that moral truth is complex, and so disagreement is not surprising. This can be paralleled with disagreements in science, which do not make scientific knowledge less real or objective.
  • Realists counter the open question argument by suggesting that “Is good itself good?” is a misguided query, with an affirmative answer being almost tautological.
  • As for non-naturalism being intuitively unappealing, some moral realists argue that moral intuitions are not always reliable guides to moral truth. They may instead advocate for a form of enlightenment view, suggesting our moral understanding might be enhanced or corrected by reason, evidence, and dialogue.